“That’s messed up.” Moises “Mo” Madera, a third-year in Arabic, pretty much summed up campus dining after one look at the nutritional value of his favorite salad, the chicken romaine caesar salad from Berry Cafe.
My particular complaint against the dining services isn’t calorie count and fat content, though it surely could be. Instead, I have focused on the obscene amount of sodium found in some of the students’ favorite choices.
“I definitely pay attention to fat and calories,” said Kathyrn Snow, a first-year in exploration, as she and her friend Daria Glock, first-year in psychology and business, munched outside of Fresh Express on North Campus.
“People never talk about sodium,” Glock said. And she’s right. Fat, sugar and calories are pushed hard by media and young people pay attention because they are self-conscious about their figure. Sodium and its effects are generally of little concern to college students.
High levels of sodium increase a person’s blood pressure, making it more likely that person will suffer from heart disease, a stroke, kidney damage or congestive heart failure, according to the Department of Health and Human Services website. African-Americans, people with preexisting hypertension (high blood pressure), chronic kidney disease or diabetes, and those 51 and older are more vulnerable to sodium’s side effects. What if you’re healthy, younger than 51 and not African-American? You are still not out of reach of hypertension.
Seventy-five percent of Americans’ sodium comes from pre-packaged foods, in which sodium is used as a preservative, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. They’re readily available and convenient. But making pre-packaged food a choice of habit at age 20 forecasts an unhealthy future. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health found that one in five people between the ages of 24-32 already suffer from hypertension. The Centers for Disease Control estimated 785,000 people suffered heart attacks in 2010, making heart disease the number one killer in America. At the rate we’re eating, that number is only going to grow.
The problem is students generally don’t know they are eating high amounts of sodium. Madera’s caesar salad with dressing – a food most would assume to be healthy – contained 1760 milligrams of sodium, 73 percent of his daily recommended value. The salad wasn’t available though, so Madera chose the Italian Hero, which packed a whopping 3740 milligrams of sodium, 156 percent of the recommended value.
Most students also don’t know that they can find the nutritional value of their campus meals online. NetNutrition, on the university residences and dining services website, is a sparsely accessed tool, but a very helpful one. There, a student can find the facts for everything the campus dining areas offer, enabling them to make informed decisions, whether they’re good or bad.
Madeline Moore, a second-year in human development and family science, said “Hmm, not as bad as I thought,” when she saw her chicken stir fry from the Courtside Cafe had 1200 milligrams, 50 percent of her daily recommended intake, and she said she would eat it again.
To feed 30,000 students, Sodexo, the campus’s food service program, is going to need to use some preservatives, but students should use their resources and be aware of what they’re consuming.
Jennifer Sulc, a fourth-year in computer science and engineering, whose chicken caesar wrap from Oxley’s Cafe contained 1970 milligrams of sodium, 83 percent of the daily value, put it perfectly.
“What you put in your body is your decision to make, not the university’s,” Sulc said. “They offer options, it’s the choice (of the student).”